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Album Review

Peter Rowan was one of the prime movers of the progressive bluegrass/newgrass movement. Although he cut his teeth playing with Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys, his long and varied career has included stints playing rock, Americana, and folk music as well as bluegrass. On Legacy, Rowan returns to the sound of traditional bluegrass, and while many of the songs are steeped in mortality, limitation, and religious fervor, the subjects are all stamped by Rowan's singular style, as is demonstrated by the tunes that bookend this 13-track collection. "Jailer Jailer" opens the record with an old-fashioned jailhouse song given an ironic twist. Keith Little's banjo and Jody Stecher's mandolin revel in the high lonesome sound of the mountains, but when Rowan sings "My god is better than your god," you know you're heading into uncharted waters. The closer, "Across the Rolling Hills (Padmasambhava)," is a country blues with a jaunty air of jubilation and leads up to a last verse sung in Hindi in praise of the guru Padmasambhava. Among the other standout tracks, "Turn the Other Cheek" is an old-time gospel tune, but Rowan's lyrics deal with realistic situations and use images of family dysfunction to deliver the familiar message of forgiveness. "The Family Demon" also addresses family dysfunction from a more desperate angle and details the beatings, drunkenness, and religious fervor that can turn a child into a bitter grownup. "So Good" is an illuminated vision of what the world can be when it's bathed in light. Gillian Welch adds vocal harmonies and David Rawlings trades guitar licks with Rowan on the track. Jody Stecher's instrumental composition "Lord Hamilton's Yearling" gives the band an opportunity to stretch out with the help of guest fiddler Tim O'Brien. Rowan wrote all but three songs here, and they combine his mastery of old-time styles with his progressive, if not downright cosmic, outlook. ~ j. poet, Rovi

Legacy, Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band
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